Rare Iron Age Skeleton Discovered In Britain's Margate Caves

Margate Caves in Kent. BRG2/Flickr

Archaeologists have unearthed an Iron Age skeleton on the final day of a dig at the Margate Caves in Kent, southeast England. The remains were found at the bottom of a bell-shaped chalk pit curled up in a fetus position, suggesting it was what archaeologists call a crouch burial.

This is a particularly exciting find because burials like this dating back to Iron Age Britain (800 BCE to 43 CE) are rare, especially those containing skeletons that are relatively complete. Research has shown that excavating recently buried bodies for bone parts was a fairly common practice among the Iron Age Brits. Many of the remains discovered today are missing bones or limbs.

“The completion of the archaeological dig out Crowdfunder backers made possible is a big milestone in our project,” Sarah Vickery, chair of the Margate Caves, told Kent Online.


The dig has been ongoing throughout February as archaeologists and volunteers excavate the area before a new visitors' office is built on the site. Aside from the skeleton, the team has discovered several Iron Age ditches, a hillfort, and post holes.

"The settlement that our archaeologists and volunteers found on our site means the Margate Caves can tell a story of the Isle of Thanet that starts well before the Romans arrived here," Vickery added.

Though the history of the cave goes back over a thousand years, it was only rediscovered in the late-17th and early-18th centuries when it was excavated as a chalk mine.

This was soon abandoned and, according to local stories, the caves apparently forgotten until a gardener at the newly built Northumberland House fell down a hole and rediscovered them. The House’s owner, Francis Forster, used the caves as a wine store, an ice well, and a grotto, even commissioning an artist to paint animals and portraits of George III on its walls. The caves were sealed up in 1835 after Forster died.

Since then, the caves have served as a refuge center during two world wars, a public site of interest, and a tourist attraction celebrating a 5th-century ruler called Vortigern, a man well-known for inviting the Saxons to Britain.

In 2004, it had to be closed down because visitor infrastructure had been poorly maintained, but if all goes well, a new visitor center will be opening next year.

As for the recently discovered skeleton, there are plans to display it with the other finds at the center after archaeologists have had a chance to properly analyze the bones.


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